Sahuaro head coach Scott McKee played at rival Sabino — and he’s not alone.

Calen McFarland grew up hearing stories from his father and uncles about their high school glory days, when they played football at Sabino High School.

They inspired McFarland to play the sport. He played Pop Warner and participated in Sabino’s football camps. Even now, McFarland has a bunch of old, cut-up Sabercats shirts in his drawers.

The only hiccup: McFarland is a junior at Sahuaro and second-year varsity player for the Cougars.

“Yeah, I used to go to all the (Sabino) games when I was a kid and I played as a (Tucson) Cowboy at McDonald Park,” McFarland said. “I did all of that. But I play for Sahuaro because my friends were here.”

And on Friday, McFarland and the Cougars will play at Sabino in the east-side rivalry.

McFarland said his family was a little iffy about letting him attend Sahuaro instead of Sabino. That doesn’t make him immune from the occasional teasing from his father.

But it’s nothing McFarland can’t handle.

“He’ll support me no matter what,” McFarland said.

Sahuaro coach Scott McKee has the same story. McKee’s father, Larry, used to be Sahuaro’s principal and thought his son could benefit from going to a different school.

So Scott McKee went to Sabino and played for the Sabercats from 1993 to 1997.

“I loved my time there, but I’m a Sahuaro Cougar and these are my guys,” McKee said. “I’m fortunate to have some good coaches helping us with really good kids. We just want to go and represent the best type of football we can play.”

The majority of McKee’s staff played at Sabino, which gives them a unique perspective heading into Friday night’s rivalry game.

“It’s special because of the history of who’s played in the game before,” McKee said. “How good the coaches were that coached it before. And that those two schools, from the ‘70s until current, were always two of the top programs in the state and that game is a showpiece of this side of town.”

Sabino is 5-1 against Sahuaro since 2012. Last year, the Sabercats routed the Cougars 41-13.

Sahuaro has started the 2018 season 1-1 and is coming off a 16-15 loss to Sierra Vista Buena last week. Sabino opened its season last week against Casa Grande, and lost 21-6.

McKee said the team is still trying to find its rhythm this season.

“We’ve got to do a better job of improving on the details, do a better job of improving on the small things that make a big difference,” McKee said. “But we have great young men here and we have great coaches.”

As far as Friday’s game, McFarland is expecting a very physical matchup.

“I’m expecting a battle,” McFarland said. “I’m expecting a lot of things to go our way and so we can pull out a victory.”

Contact reporter Norma Gonzalez at 520-262-3265 or

Sports reporter

Norma started at the Star in 2017. She's a sports reporter covering all types of beats. She graduated from the University of Texas–Pan American in 2014 and recently graduated from the Associated Press Sports Editors Diversity Fellowship program.